Home :: Romance :: Sterling Lakes Series, Book 3: Praise of the Heart by Regina Andrews (Inspirational Romance)

Sterling Lakes Series, Book 3: Praise of the Heart by Regina Andrews (Inspirational Romance)

Sterling Lakes Series, Book 3: Praise of the Heart by Regina Andrews (Inspirational Romance)
 
(3 reviews)  

Librarian Laura Matthewson is happy staying out of the limelight. But when pro baseball star Cliff Markham returns home to Sterling Lakes to help with the St. Luke's Church Renovation fundraiser, will she be able to resist his magnetic power?

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Sterling Lakes Series, Book 3: Praise of the Heart by Regina Andrews (Inspirational Romance)
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3 Most useful customer reviews (see all reviews):
Richard Fox
Jun 3, 2015
Cliff Markham is back .....
Yery good reading for all concerned.. Nice story the Sterling Lakes setting is a great backdrop...Nice ending...for all to appreciate... Cheers !!!!!!!!!!

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Marie Haney (http://issuu.com/btsemag/docs/december2013/31?e=5491198/5838051)
Dec 26, 2013
From the very start, this book was charming, sweet, and romantic. It was so easy to fall in love with the timid and shy librarian, Laura. Her warmth and big heart capture the premise of the story beautifully.

When she's volunteering at a church fundraiser, she meets Cliff, a professional baseball player who lives his entire life in the spotlight. She's intimidated at first by his forward personality, and his fame, but Cliff is awestruck by Laura and is determined to win her heart.

It's an adorable story with a very touching scenario that emphasizes why the chase for love can be far more romantic than the catch.
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Lorena Sanqui for Readers' Favorite (https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/13228)
Dec 10, 2013
Cliff 'Clean-Up' Markham is back in Sterling Lakes for St. Luke's Vacation Bible School when he meets Laura Matthewson, the local librarian. It looks like Cliff is smitten with Laura but Laura seems to be wary of him. A problem between Sterling Lakes and Clark’s Falls thrusts the two of them together in search of a solution. It looks like this problem has happened before and might history be repeating itself? Amidst all these difficulties, Laura also has to think about letting her own light shine. In a small town where there are still people with small and closed minds, will letting one's light shine be the answer to all their problems. Praise of the Heart by Regina Andrews is the third book in The Sterling Lake series but can be read as a standalone.

Praise of the Heart is a beautiful and uplifting book. Just reading the conversations of the main characters makes my heart feel light. The story is inspirational and holds some nuggets of wisdom that we all should know and live by. The main theme of the book is about letting our light shine and it was shown in the development of the characters. The book lesson came across very well. There is some romance in the story but I think this can be read by people of all ages. A good book with a solid ending.
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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

As he viewed the scene in the St. Luke's Vacation Bible School picnic area, Cliff 'Clean-Up' Markham adjusted the brim of his baseball cap and said a silent prayer of thanksgiving.

You brought me back here to Sterling Lakes, Lord, safe and sound again after another year and for that I give You thanks.

He eyed the group of somber children sitting dutifully on the benches. Not all of them are as fortunate as I am. I'll never forget the gifts You gave me, and I will always praise You for them. But, come on, we've got to liven this place up. They need spirit. Your spirit, Lord. Help me impart the joy of your spirit to them. Amen.

Bounding across the lush, green lawn on the long legs that had been his ticket to a career as a major league baseball outfielder, Cliff cried, "Play ball!"

Every head turned his way, and soon the lawn was a kaleidoscope of color and motion as the youngsters flew across the grass to him.

J.B. Norwood, head of the St. Luke's Vacation Bible School exclaimed, "It's Cliff! It's Cliff! He's back! Hi there, Clean-Up!"

"Clean-Up!" A laughing group of children reached him, swarming him before any adults.

"There you are, Russell. Jeremy, whoa, you got tall. Hey, Margaret, how've you been? Say, Bucky, what's up?"

"They call me Billy now," the boy replied, kicking the ground.

"Right. Good to know."

Cliff reviewed the sea of faces before him--some familiar to him and some new from last year's session. In each one he read hope, youth, goodness...and a desperate need for direction and connection.

Then he saw her. Standing by the edge of the grass. Tall, wearing a blue dress. A vision like something from the pages of a magazine.

He smiled, and she walked towards him. Her long, dark hair swayed gracefully with her every rhythmical step. She was in her early twenties, he guessed. She smiled, and Cliff felt the ground shudder under him.

Beaming, she opened her arms and said, "Children, give Mr. Markham some room to breathe, okay? Why don't we go sit together under the apple tree?"

"Miss Laurie, he's here to play, not sit around," came an instant protest.

"Russell, you have a good point. Let's let our star attraction decide." She tilted her head to one side and with a mischievous half-smile, fixed her gaze on Cliff.

Not many times in his twenty-six years had Cliff Markham been stopped short. Life to him was a big game--fun, baseball, travel, women. Good times seemed to flow his way with his natural charm and ease.

Until now. The challenge radiating from those dark brown eyes stopped him in his tracks, and right away he knew he was in big trouble.

He took a few steps towards her and held out his hand. "We haven't been properly introduced, Miss Laurie. I'm Cliff Markham. From Sterling Lakes. I play baseball with Tampa Bay Stingrays these days." He shrugged.

"Laura Matthewson. Sterling Lakes Librarian."

When she shook his hand, Cliff felt its softness and warmth then caught a whiff of her clean, fresh scent dancing on the breeze.

"You look more like a Laura to me instead of a Laurie."

Her eyebrow arched slightly. "Then I am Laura to you, that's just fine."

"You're a lot different from Miss Gibson, the librarian here when I was a kid. You know, gray bubble cut and support hose that stopped at her knees." A thought struck him. "Please don't tell me she's your aunt or something."

Laura's eyes crinkled. "She's not."

He took a step closer to her. "That's a major relief."

"Hey, we gonna play or what?" Russell called.

"Hold on, buddy. Miss Laurie and I were just figuring out something." He turned away from the kids so only she could hear him and said, "Join me for dinner tonight?"

"I don't think that's possible, but thanks."

"Anything is possible, Miss Laurie. You know that." Cliff caught his breath, waiting for her answer and watching her every move. It seemed to him that she frowned slightly, but he couldn't be sure.

"That is true. Just not tonight, I'm on duty at the library, and there's no one to fill in for me if I don't show up. But thanks again anyway for the invitation. It's time for our Bible song class now. Nice to meet you, Mr. Markham." She turned to face the children. "Class, line up, please."

Grumbles to the likes of "Gee, don't we get to play with Clean-Up?" and "Aw, come off it!" erupted right away.

"We'll have none of that, you guys. He will be back, no doubt. For now, we're focusing on giving praise to the Lord in joyous song."

Cliff stood behind Laura, facing the kids with his arms raised up in the air and a sheepish expression on his face as if he were saying, "I tried...sorry."

That's how he was posed when she turned around and faced him.

"Having fun?"

Cliff bit his lip to keep from laughing. She looked so serious and stern and so beautiful with her brown eyes all worked up and flashing, but the kids' giggling got to him, and he couldn't help but crack a smile--a small one--as he lowered his arms slowly. "Just stretching. Stiff from the plane. You know how it is."

"I do." She walked around him and gestured to the kids. "Let's line up over here, children."

They shuffled into formation and headed towards the entrance of the brick schoolhouse.

Russell broke from the line to give Cliff a high-five. "See you round, Clean-Up. You owe me that game of catch."

"You got it, buddy."

Cliff tried to catch Laura's eye, but she seemed to be deliberately avoiding him, focusing all her attention on the children. Too much so.

All right, let her go this time. I'll get to her later. He couldn't resist calling, "Have a good day, Miss Laurie."

The kids seemed amused by his teasing sing-song tone from all the giggling he heard, but Laura, she just turned and gave him a pretty, fussy-looking nod. Her long dark hair flowed like a curtain over most of her face so he couldn't really see her expression, but that ramrod straight back and stiff shoulders told him something for sure.

"We'll just see about you, Miss Prim and Proper," he mumbled, hitching his thumbs into the belt loops of his jeans and turning away so she wouldn't see him grinning.

"Welcome back, Cliff." J. B. Norwood hustled over to him from the picnic table area, and shook his hand vigorously. "So good of you to come back during your only break in the season."

"Hey there, J.B., I wouldn't miss this for the world. The All-Star break is made for guys like me to go out and do something meaningful. Just wish I had more than a few days."

"Let me tell you, we'll take whatever we can get. The kids love you, and the adults are absolutely drooling. They can't wait for the big fundraiser on Friday night."

"That's good, then. I'm looking forward to it, too," he said, his tone thoughtful. They walked across the grassy side yard towards St. Luke's church. Mounds of dirt, walls of plywood, two-by-fours, and heavy duty construction equipment filled the parking area. Yellow 'caution' tape sealed the church area off from the public. "There seems to be progress on the renovation project. How's it going?"

J. B. shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Seems we have run into some environmental glitches. An easement or something. Has to do with the neighboring property and protected areas."

"Wouldn't they figure that all out before they got started?"

"You'd think. I mean, all the plans were approved, but I guess there's talk of a faction from Clark's Falls that says our project is going to affect their town, because the stream that runs here comes from their waterfall and runs right through our renovation area over there."

He pointed across the parking area to a gently sloping hillock with water sparkling in the background.

"Sounds like history repeating itself to me. Clark's Falls has always been testy about the water issue between our two towns."

"I don't know about that."

Cliff fiddled with the brim of his cap. "Goes way back, J.B., probably before you moved here. Stuff between Sterling Lakes and Clark's Falls never ends up good. Worst time was about forty years ago when they built a dam and blocked the water from getting here. Nearly destroyed the town."

"Well, we can't let that happen now. This isn't some hick town in an undeveloped nation. There's politics and economics involved."

"And religion."

"Religion, right. I like that wry smile, Cliff. You look like you've got a few tricks up your sleeve."

"Nope. Just the truth, J.B., and a halfway good throwing arm." He opened his car door. "Let me go get settled, and I'll catch up with you back here later to start my classes."

"Sounds good. Becky has all your books and stuff ready at the front desk whenever you want to pick it up."

"Great. See you soon, J.B. Thanks."

*****

"Let's try that one again, okay?" Laura Mathewson focused on the sea of shining faces before her, sitting on the floor around her piano like a wave cresting on the shore. "Ready?"

She played the four-bar intro to the song and counted: "Three, two, one..." Immediately a chorus of angel voices rang through the room.

The room erupted in spontaneous applause when the song finished. Billy kept pounding the rhythm on his tambourine. Tapping her Jimmy Choo's, Laura swung into the next song without missing a beat.

The children began a second time, and Laura gestured to them, her designer bracelets jangling, while she continued to play the piano with her free hand.

They stood up as she directed, joined hands, and formed a circle around the piano. Laura viewed their smiling faces, and her heart swelled. They must have been sent by God to give me happiness, she thought. Each and every one is a blessing.

Her eyes misted up, but she smiled. "Great job. Keep moving, just like we did this morning."

The kids circled the piano, singing the round even louder this time. Then, they broke the circle and formed two lines, walking hand-in-hand towards the side of the room.

"Beautiful. Now the final chorus. Loud as you can!"

The children seemed to turn up their voices to a new decibel with the next chorus. Laura felt that silly old lump in her throat and just swallowed it back. This is a time of happiness, not of tears. So relax and enjoy it to the max while you can.

The voices rose higher and higher. They were nearly finished with the final verse when the classroom door burst open and in strolled Cliff 'Clean-Up' Markham.

"Listen to you, like a regular soundtrack from Disney or something," he said, a half-smile slicing across his face. The kids went crazy, rushing over to him, forgetting their song and their rehearsal time for the presentation.

Laura bit her lower lip. So he just can just make an appearance whenever he wants? Maybe that blond hair and those long legs of his made him feel like he had some advantages--in the major leagues of the baseball world--not in her classroom.

The soft-hearted side of her realized that if she was one of these kids, she'd be going crazy, too. So many of them had rough home lives. A guy like Cliff blowing in made them feel excited.

She glanced at Billy Lazarus, all rigid, sticking close to Cliff's side. He'd been getting more and more withdrawn throughout the school year, she had noticed, when he'd come in after school and she was at the reference desk working. Now his sister, Abby, was back in town for a visit. Word had it she was trying to help the family, but her pierced and tattooed appearance caused all sorts of talk which hadn't helped one bit.

She caught Cliff's eye over the tumble of kids surrounding him. Counting to three, she let herself smile--on the inside only--as she watched the kids hanging all over him. Then she stood up and took one step away from the piano.

Instantly, silence fell over the room. The kids stood frozen as if they had been vapor sprayed.

From the corner of her eye she caught the look of disbelief that Cliff tossed her way. Forcing herself to block it out, she kept her features rigid. All the while, she pealed with laughter on the inside. But these kids could never see that. They needed structure and discipline and restraint and parameters, along with some designer fashions. That's what God was calling her to give them. As well as some good old-fashioned fun. They needed time to be kids. Perhaps Cliff tuned into that, too.

"Mr. Markham. What a wonderful surprise."

"Thank you, Miss Laurie. I was just passing down the hall, and when I heard the great music I just had to see where it was coming from. I hope you don't mind I just barged in?"

Laura waved her hand in the air, as if she were brushing away a fly. "Our door is always open, and we are thrilled you are here. Aren't we, children?"

While the kids gave an enthusiastic chorus of agreement, Laura thought how happy Cliff looked with them and how naturally he melded with them. His sun-streaked hair seemed a bit shaggy and rebellious, and those sneakers of his were a rule all unto themselves. He looked at Laura, eyes twinkling. "Well, now, I'm glad to hear that 'cause I'm a huge music lover. Huge."

"Are you really?"

"I am."

Everything about Cliff Markham seemed easy, free, and relaxed to her. Like he was a guy totally comfortable in his own skin. Laura tried to tell herself that it wasn't that attractive, but she knew she was lying to herself. It was incredibly appealing.

At the same time, she felt a thrill. He was a major league baseball player. Probably set for life, financially, and that drew her attention right away. He caught her watching him and smiled at her. A beaming, sun-drenched, warm, and glorious smile.

Watch out, Laura. Remember, you don't need the glamorous life or a lot of money like he must have to be happy. But you wouldn't mind it at all, either, would you? Boy, this guy could really, really shake things up.

"Let's sing for him, Miss Laurie. Could we?" A pixie-like blonde girl jumped in place.

"What's your name?" Cliff asked.

"Violet Slater. I'm seven. I'm new here. With my sister Daisy. So can we?" She turned to Laura.

"Wonderful idea, Violet. Let's try the "Lord's Prayer" song. Do you know that one?"

On those long legs, he met her quickly at the piano.

"Refresh my memory, would you?"

"Of course, Mr. Markham." Oh, he is standing dangerously close.

"You should call him Clean-Up," Billy called.

"Or Pig Pen, that's what we said last year, remember?" another voice called out. The kids shrieked with laughter at that.

"You don't look like a Pig Pen to me," she declared.

"Glad to hear that."

Laura thought his eyes seemed to dance a little when he answered her. She bit her lower lip to keep from laughing.

"So what are you gonna call him, Miss Laurie?" Billy asked.

"Yeah!" the other kids cried.

Laura silenced them with a look. Then she turned to Cliff. "Any preferences?"

"Whatever you say will be perfect with me. Call me anything. I'll go with whatever you say. Anything. Except if you call me a pain."

Peals of laughter filled the room as the kids enjoyed his joke. Laura watched him as he played up to them, encouraging their silliness with his antics. He seemed to be just the presence they needed.

His casual attitude was something she never, ever could adopt for herself. But, she saw what a wonderful influence he was for them and took her leap of faith.

"Let's try, 'Cliff'."

"Music to my ears, Miss Laurie."

She smiled at his quick turn of the phrase then looked up at him from under her eyelashes. Her heart thumped when she saw the way he was looking at her. All smiling and fresh and open, full of life and energy and fun.

With a nod, she sat on the piano bench and began playing the introduction to the song. The children gathered round.

"Our Father, which art in Heaven,

Hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done

On Earth as it is in Heaven..."

Laura closed her eyes and sang softly along with the children. For some reason, this prayer of praise seemed to be especially meaningful to her heart today.

*****

The dark mahogany and marble of the reference room of the Sterling Lakes Library made it a cozy and inviting place. Students, residents, and tourists all seemed to enjoy exploring the area, filled floor to ceiling with shelves of hard-covered reference books, maps, and municipal records. At certain times of the afternoon, right before sunset, the light would filter in through the stained glass windows, creating pretty patterns on the Persian-carpeted floor.

Laura sat behind her large oak desk at the far end of the room reading the latest copy of Elle magazine, her green reading lamp on as usual. Day or night, she enjoyed the extra light from the lamp her mother had given her when she got the appointment as Town Historian and First Reference Librarian. It was called a banker's lamp.

How they had laughed at that name. Laura was the first to admit she was just about the furthest thing possible from a banker. Finances were not her thing at all--unless being an unstoppable spender qualified; then she was an expert. Ever since she could remember, she loved money, luxury, and opulence, to such an extreme that she had vowed to stay away from material temptations.

She looked at the light of the lamp and heard her mother say, "Keep it on, and maybe one day you will go into the spotlight where you belong, sweetheart, not buried away here where the world can't see you."

"You've got that wistful look again, Mom," Laura remembered answering. "Don't worry, I will be happy here. It's a good job for me, just right."

"You just seem..."

"I know, Mom. Tall." At nearly six feet in height, everyone who met Laura marveled at her exotic beauty and asked her why she wasn't modeling for a career. But Laura kept herself away from the limelight. "That life is not for me. This is where I belong."

"I hope so, Laura. You know all I want is your happiness."

"I know that, and I thank God for you."

"You do, of course. Just remember, God has a plan for all of us, and we have to obey His will and serve Him--no matter what we would prefer for ourselves."

"I don't think God will be losing sleep because Laura Matthewson didn't pursue a modeling career."

She flipped through the pages of ads to the newest fashion spread for summer. Luxury ads on every page made her nearly drool with want. Such beautiful things! Laura critiqued the photos and the poses of the models, imagining an arm extended here, a head tilted there, to get a better, more chic and stunning effect.

It was one of her favorite pastimes when she could grab a spare minute. Whenever she started to feel a pang of regret about breaking the appointment she had accepted with a top agency in Boston a few years back, she always told herself that there was nothing she could do about it. But she could dream. The seductive high life would be so...

A polite cough broke into her thoughts, and she looked up. "Patty! Crystal! You're able to leave the inn?" Laura whispered.

Patty O'Malley owned and ran the Sterling Lakes Bed and Breakfast in town, and Crystal, the young teenager she had taken in when she was pregnant, worked for her now full-time.

"Yes, I thought Sibohn could take over for a while. There are no guests tonight so she should be okay."

"What are you doing here?"

"Hey, don't sound so surprised to see me in a library, Laura. Just because I own a business doesn't mean I don't read." Patty O'Malley put her fists on her ample middle-aged hips and gave a good-natured smile. "Now as far as this kid--" She hitched her thumb towards the girl next to her.

"I read a lot--online." Whispering, Crystal held up her iPad. "Working for this slave driver doesn't leave much time for anything."

"That's these young kids today, always the technology."

The two broke into a giggle fit, and with a smile Laura put her finger to her lips to remind them they were in a library. "Seriously."

"Oh, there's no one here," Crystal giggled.

"Seriously, we heard that you had a close encounter of the romantic kind with Cliff Markham today, and we wanted to hear all about it." Patty leaned across the desk, eyes wide.

"Seriously," echoed Crystal.

"It was nothing," Laura declared, "nothing at all."

"He was in the classroom singing with you! That is something."

"Who told you that?" Laura felt her face getting warm and hoped she wasn't blushing.

"I was at the market and heard Russell telling his mother. Everyone is crazy glad he's back in town. You missed him last year." Patty gave a sly smile. "Laura, he is Major League Available and sizzling hot."

"He seems like a nice enough fellow. The kids adore him."

"So tell us what happened."

"Did he ask you out?" Crystal pressed. "He must have--she won't say a word to us, Patty."

Laura leaned forward. "I'll tell you. Yes, he did ask me out to dinner tonight, but I told him I couldn't because I was working here."

"That's it? No follow-up? No phone numbers? Texts?" Patty seemed disappointed.

"End of story. Well, there is no story. That's it. He does seem nice, though."

"He is nice. Everyone here loves him. He helps out the church like you can't believe."

"That's all well and good, Crystal, but he did interrupt my class today which isn't so great in my book. Except that the kids are nuts about him, like I said."

"I'm never going to get you married off, Laura. You have to say 'yes' once in a while to these guys. Look at you." Patty shook her head.

"He's an okay guy?"

"Laura, he's Prince Charming. Believe me."

Crystal pouted. "Wish he'd ask me out."

"Now's your chance. There he is!" Patty elbowed her and motioned towards the other end of the room.

Laura looked over and saw Cliff walking through the marble archway directly towards her. Wearing a fresh cotton shirt and crisp khaki pants, and with his hair combed back, she thought he looked like he could have just stepped out of the pages of one of the fashion magazines she read so avidly.

"That is him," she murmured.

Cliff looked her way and gave her an enthusiastic wave. Laura waved back.

"Like a deer in headlights, Crystal, look at her," Patty said. "Let's go."

"I'm not going. He's coming right over here," Crystal announced. "He's coming to see you, Laura."

"Evening, friends." Cliff joined them at Laura's desk and shook hands all around. "I remember you, Patty O'Malley. Great to see you again. How's the B&B?"

"Hi, Cliff." Patty gave a girlish smile.

Crystal shook his hand, saying, "I'm Crystal. Patty's right-hand gal. And I love baseball. I'm a big fan of yours, Mr. Markham."

"Nice to meet you, Crystal, and let's make it Cliff. You'll have to come up for a game next time we're in town."

"Awesome!" Crystal was wide-eyed.

"This lovely lady looks familiar." Cliff pointed towards Laura, who nibbled her lower lip.

"We've got to get going, now, Laura," Patty piped. "Nice to see you, Cliff. Stop in the B&B while you're around and see the updates we made this winter." She hustled off, practically dragging Crystal with her.

Laura turned to Cliff. "Hi."

"Hi." He pulled a chair over and sat next to her. "Missed you at dinner."

His husky whisper sent a surprise chill up Laura's spine. She swallowed and asked, "Where'd you go?"

"Sterling Lakes Diner, as delicious as ever." His playful, twinkling expression receded, and the look on his face became serious. "Laura, there's a problem between Sterling Lakes and Clark's Falls with the water access for the St. Luke's renovations. They're threatening to stop the whole job. I need to research the history, and I don't have much time. Will you help me out?"

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